A Teachable Moment From "Wall Street"

Wall Street is a mess, a morass, a snarl of contradictions large and small — a magnet for envy and indignation, fear and worship. Why should "Wall Street" be any different? — The New York Times

Flash back with me to 1987, a darkened movie theater somewhere in America, and a scene where Gordon Gecko, the powerful Wall Street mogul, looks out at his audience and utters: "The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good." Opus College of Business Dean Christopher Puto's column this week in the Star Tribune took on the movie sequel to "Wall Street," which opens in theaters today.

Almost 200 St. Thomas students and alumni had a chance to take in a sneak preview of the movie and participate in a discussion of business, greed, ethics and lessons learned or unlearned since the the first "Wall Street" came out in 1987.

The discussion featured John Taft, CEO of RBC U.S. Wealth Management and Chairman-Elect of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (the leading securities industry trade group representing securities firms, banks, and asset management companies in the U.S. and Asia) and Ron James, President and CEO of the Center for Ethical Business Cultures.

Taft, who has has been in the financial services industry since 1981, said that in comparing the financial markets of 1987 to those of today, there is a "mind boggling range of products," and a truly global marketplace which can instantly be affected by events around the world. Moreover, in the lead up to the most recent financial crisis Taft said, "investors forgot they were in the business of helping their clients," exactly the "moral hazard" and greed depicted in the film.

James questioned how the new generation of financial professionals would be influenced by the movie—toward greed, or good? From Dean Puto's column:

Learning when and how to draw upon one's core values to overcome the siren song of greed will help guide our future business and investment leaders to emulate the Warren Buffets, Bill Gateses, Bill Georges and Chuck Dennys of the world and use their knowledge and skills to create and deliver superior value while earning a just profit and making our world better.

Taft commented that future investors need to be intense and play the gamebut follow the rules; noting that long term success on wall street is all about building and maintaining client relationships.

So, the bottom line is that greed is never good. Talent, integrity and wisdom will always come out ahead in the long run, and the role of good business schools everywhere is to ensure that these values take precedence over the shady deals that in fact are too good to be true.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” opens in theaters September 24, 2010. The pre-screening discussion was live-Tweeted by the Opus College of Business @USTbusiness. Follow us for more insights on business in the Twin Cities.